Many of us have had to endure the snores of a loved one keeping us awake at night at some point in our lives. We know how disruptive snoring can be to family life, but can it also be dangerous to your health?
“In some cases the answer to this question is yes, because snoring indicates partially obstructed breathing, and can point to underlying health problems that may be of concern,” says Dr Viven Rajah, an ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeon who practises at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban.
For this reason Dr Rajah recommends that habitual snorers seek medical advice, regardless of their age or weight.
Snoring is noisy breathing due to narrowing of the upper air passages, either in the nose or in the throat, or both. Up to 45% of adults snore at least occasionally, and 25% are thought to be habitual snorers.
Snoring is more common in males and overweight individuals, and it usually worsens with age. Excessive alcohol intake and certain drugs may encourage snoring. Large tonsils and adenoids, and in rare cases cysts and tumours, may cause snoring in children.
According to Dr Rajah, snoring is sometimes linked to obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which is when loud snoring is interrupted by frequent episodes of obstructed breathing. In some cases sufferers have periods when they stop breathing altogether for a few seconds, and are then left gasping for breath.
If these episodes are frequent and last more than 10 seconds, normal sleep patterns are disrupted. An ongoing lack of quality sleep has been shown to have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.
The problem of obstructive sleep apnoea
“A number of problems have been associated with serious snoring and OSA. It can disturb sleep to the point that it results in daytime drowsiness and exhaustion. This affects concentration, and makes it extremely hazardous to drive or operate heavy machinery,” says Dr Rajah.
As OSA progresses, cognitive dysfunction, memory and judgment impairment, irritability, and depression can develop, leading to work and social problems. The systemic consequences of OSA can include hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke and death. These are some of the reasons why it is so important for habitual snorers to be examined by a medical practitioner, according to Dr Rajah.
“It has been estimated that sleep apnoea will affect one in 25 men and one in 50 women at some point in their lifetimes. These are significant figures, and it is important that we improve awareness of this important medical condition among South Africans.”
A complete medical history should be taken to ascertain whether the problem is merely snoring, or whether the patient may have OSA. The consultation should include the individual’s bed partner, who may be able to assist with a description of sleep patterns.
An ENT specialist should examine the snorer’s nose, mouth, throat, palate and neck, as well as perform an endoscopic examination of the upper airway, in order to ascertain the site of obstruction.
A sleep study, which involves investigating a patient’s sleep patterns, may be required to exclude OSA.
Snoring can be managed
“The treatment of snoring and OSA depends on the cause of the airway obstruction. The obstruction may be in the nose or throat, or both. Minor nasal obstruction may respond to medical treatment, but more serious cases may require surgical correction of a nasal deformity. In children, the removal of the tonsils and adenoids may be indicated.”
In adults with OSA, the area of obstruction is often the base of the tongue, which collapses backwards during sleep and obstructs the airway.
“These patients may respond to sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask, which prevents the tissues in the throat from collapsing. If CPAP fails or is not tolerated by the patient, various forms of surgery may be helpful, depending on the individual patient and the site of the obstruction.”
Simple solutions for mild snorers
Dr Rajah says for adults who are mild snorers, the following simple measures may help:
- Weight loss
- Avoiding tranquilisers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines as far as possible
- Avoiding alcoholic beverages and heavy meals within three hours of retiring for the night
- Establishing regular sleeping patterns
Dr Augusta Dorning, general manager of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, says the facility is honoured to work with specialists such as Dr Rajah, who are leaders in their fields and offer expert medical services to the community.
“Snoring not only often unsettles family life, causing everyone sleepless nights, but it may be an indication of more serious health problems. Snorers who are concerned about their condition would be well advised to have it evaluated by a healthcare practitioner,” she concludes.
Dr Rajah specialises in treating the full range of ear, nose and throat conditions in both children and in adults. These include ear infections, hearing loss, nasal obstruction, allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, snoring, obstructive sleep apnoea, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, throat, and voice box (larynx). For further information on sleep disorders visit http://entdoctor-durban.com.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare St AHospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson or Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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